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David Chesney, a lecturer in computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, has been named this year’s recipient of the James T. Neubacher Award, the University announced in a press release Monday. The Neubacher Award is presented by the University’s Council for Disability Concerns to recognize a member of the University that has worked to make life easier and more accessible for people with disabilities.

 

The Neubacher Award is presented every October as a part of Investing in Ability Week, which features activities and initiatives focused on increasing awareness and understanding of people with disabilities. Neubacher, an alum of the University and The Michigan Daily, worked for the Detroit Free Press for his entire career, and began as an investigative reporter for their City Room and then worked on the Canadian Beat. After he became disabled by multiple sclerosis, however, he started a column called “Disabled in Detroit” which quickly became nationally recognized.

 

One of Chesney’s main contributions in the area has been through Gaming for the Greater Good, a course he teaches for first-year students at the University. In Gaming for the Greater Good, students learn basic coding skills and are then tasked with developing a game using their new skills. Chesney specifies that the games students create have to work toward helping people. Students in the class have helped create games geared towards children with cerebral palsy and children on the autism spectrum.

 

In the release, Chesney spoke about his intentions with the class, and how he connected learning about programming with making a positive impact.

“They are really developing solid technical skills,” Chesney said. “Developing a very unique user interface for someone who potentially can’t see it or can’t hear is an interesting technical issue. A cool project with the addition of ‘let’s help people while we’re doing it’ seemed like a really easy fit.”

 

One person particularly affected by the work of Chesney and his students is LSA senior Brad Ebenhoeh.  Ebenhoeh, who is 32 years old, returned to the University after a decade of rehabilitation after suffering a life-altering brain hemorrhage at 19 years old. The hemorrhage left him with a paralyzed right side of his body and limited vision. Though he has regained his cognitive functions, he remains in a wheelchair and benefits from the help of a caretaker. Chesney’s students in a senior-level engineering class have helped develop technology to assist Ebenhoeh in his new situation.

 

“As the focal point of Dr. Chesney’s class, his students have created things I need to help me succeed in school,” Ebenhoeh said in the release. “They developed a foot-pedal keyboard device that helped me take notes and send emails and a backup camera device for my wheelchair.”

 

Students say Chesney’s efforts show them how the work that they do in school can make a positive impact on the world.

 

Jason Pinho, a former student of Chesney’s who is a software engineer for Northrop Grumman, said his involvement in Chesney’s class helped him open his eyes to issues people might face when using products that claim to be accessible to everyone.

 

“His mission is to teach the next generation of engineers about designing and creating products for everyone,” Pinho said in the release. “His course really opened my eyes to the difficulties that some people have when using a universally designed product.”

 

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